Democrats are holding a sit-in on the floor of the House, demanding action on gun control.
"The time for silence and patience is long gone," said Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a former civil rights leader who's taken the lead in the sit-in. "The American people are demanding action. Do we have the courage, do we have the raw courage to make at least a down payment on ending gun violence in America?"
Details are scarce. Vox.com reports that House Democrats would like to force a vote the way Senate Democrats did through a filibuster. The Senate voted on four gun bills on Monday night, with all four failing. The most egregious wanted to deny the right to bear arms for anyone who was put on the federal government's terror watch list, a list the federal government can put any American on without even the pretext of due process.
But there do not appear to be any bills similar to the ones in the Senate that have actually been submitted to the House. I called the DC office of Rep. Lewis to ask for which legislation the sit-in was intended but was told there was no "specific" legislation but rather a push to get some kind of vote. After asking a follow-up, the person who picked up the phone told me he did not speak for the office and gave me the contact information for Lewis' communications director, who has not responded*.
It's not surprising that there's no specific gun bill House Democrats have in mind. Despite their rhetoric, gun control has not been high on their legislative agenda, and they appear to be simply exploiting emotions surrounding the Orlando shooting, an exercise I've noted was dangerous for the way it can be used to limit civil liberties, restrict immigration, and even expand America's military interventions abroad.
Sit-ins were used in the 1950s and 1960s to protest segregation. Activists would "sit in" places they weren't welcomed in order to demand equal treatment. Today, Lewis and other Democrats are sitting in a chamber that they are a part of and that they controlled not so long ago.
Democrats controlled both houses of Congress and the presidency from 2009 to 2010 but did not pass any gun control legislation then. The four bills considered by the Senate all violated the civil liberties of Americans to one degree or another. Democrats' hobby horse in the gun debate this time around is demanding that people on the terror watch list (which could contain more than a million names) be stripped of their constitutional right to bear arms, a basic violation of due process.
Yet Lewis manages to use the language of "injustice," tweeting that what Democrats were doing was "speaking out against injustice." It's as good an opportunity to remind Lewis and others who are leveraging their connections to civil rights movements from the 1960s to the present day to push their partisan agenda that gun control has an indisputably racist history. "Crazy negroes" with guns helped defeat Jim Crow laws, while fear of guns in the hands of black people drove gun control laws in the 1960s. Even today, while mass shootings are convenient high-profile events on which to pin a gun control push, gun control advocates often cite inner city violence as a reason to act on gun control. Many cities with significant African-American populations, like Chicago and New York City, have among the strictest gun control laws in the country.
Anti-gun advocates point to island nations like Australia or the United Kingdom or largely ethnically homogenous, small countries in Europe as examples of gun control working, instead of countries like Brazil, which are closer in population, demographics, and history to the U.S. Voters in Brazil rejected a law to ban guns, understanding it was just another way to exacerbate the income inequality gap. Cops in Brazil and even Uruguay have been suspected of selling weapons to gangs. Strict gun control laws in that country, and elsewhere in the Americas, have been ineffective in lowering gun violence. Donald Trump is called a racist for insisting he's going to build a wall on the border, but given the availability of firearms in the Americas, anything approaching "effective" gun control measures would require something like a huge wall to stem the flow of traffic of weapons that become highly controlled in the U.S.
Similarly, the results anti-gun advocates demand would require a ramping up of enforcement in inner cities, where a disproportionate amount of gun violence occurs, by the very same cops the anti-gun left just a few short months ago insisted it understood were engaged in systemic brutality of marginalized communities. Today John Lewis and his colleagues are sitting in on the House Floor to demand just that, cloaking themselves in emotional fervor and exploiting a culture of fear, not that far from what white supremacists in the 1960s did when they demanded more laws to control African-Americans and deny them their rights.
*We will update this post if she responds, but won't let foot dragging by congressional press folks slow down a story.
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